This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.

The coronavirus crisis has had a huge impact on society, the economy, and jobs. In response, HMRC has delivered new schemes designed to help furloughed workers and the self-employed. But millions of people are claiming social security benefits, particularly Universal Credit, as a result of being unable to work, losing their job, or working reduced hours. The Government has responded with a series of changes to the benefits system. 

MPs and their staff dealing with social security casework will find it helpful to know what has changed during the crisis. This is discussed in section 4 of our Commons Library briefing Coronavirus: Support for household finances.  

Rules are continually changing, and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) offers up-to-date online guidance on claiming benefits. Independent organisations such as Citizens Advice also continue to offer specialist advice and information across the UK.  

What has and has not changed? 

In response to the crisis, the Government has introduced changes to increase support for some claimants, facilitate social distancing, and streamline claims in the face of unprecedented demand.  

New regulations increase levels of Universal Credit (UC), Working Tax Credit, and housing support for private renters, as well as easing and speeding up access to sickness benefits. The DWP has also suspended certain features of the system in order to free up staff capacity to process new claims and facilitate social distancing. These include: 

  • Face-to-face meetings and assessments 
  • Work-related conditionality and sanctions 
  • Some deductions from UC  

A full discussion of coronavirus-related social security changes can be found in section 4 of our Commons Library briefing Coronavirus: Support for household finances

The DWP has introduced no new benefits, and broad eligibility criteria have not changed, though millions have become newly eligible for social security benefits as the crisis has impacted the economy. So our Commons Library constituency casework page What benefits might people claim?  still includes useful links to online benefits calculators and other information sources. 

If a person claims Universal Credit, it is very unlikely that they will be able to return to any “legacy” benefits they claimed before. This can happen even if they turn out to be ineligible for UC due to different eligibility criteria to benefits such as tax credits. The Government has been stressing that claimants check their eligibility before making a claim. 

Information about claiming benefits during the crisis 

The key consolidated DWP source for information on benefits during the crisis is the Understanding Universal Credit website. This has been updated through the crisis and provides information on benefits constituents can claim if they have lost their job or are working reduced hours. The Gov.UK website provides information about the wider social security system. 

Independent organisations also offer independent advice and information, as well as other resources that may help MPs and staff understand constituents’ issues. 

Independent advice and information for claimants and advisers  

Legislation, guidance and case law 

  • Rightsnet provides a range of resources aimed at primarily at welfare advisers. The Rightsnet team also produce universalcreditinfo, which outlines the various coronavirus-related changes to Universal Credit and their legal basis. 
  • Updates on coronavirus-related social welfare law more widely can also be found be found on the Rightsnet website

Policy debates 

  • Rightsnet’s dedicated coronavirus content includes a comprehensive list of government announcements, news updates, summaries of reports from campaigning groups and other stakeholders, as well as topical discussion forums for advisers. Summaries of this content can be found in their daily newsletter
  • The Commons Library briefing CBP-8894, Coronavirus: Support for household finances covers a wider range of policy responses and debate during the crisis. 

Disclaimer

The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.

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